December 1, 2010

Wojnarowicz Censored at SAAM (Ants Attack America, Again)

Here's a link to a four minute excerpt of the David Wojnarowicz video A Fire in My Belly (1987).
On November 30, as everyone knows by now, the film was removed from the National Portrait Gallery's Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, apparently because it displays ants crawling on a crucifix. I suggest watching the video with the sound OFF, because the YouTube version has a musical score that is distracting. Those objecting to the video are particularly incensed that it would have been displayed during the Christmas holidays. Apparently, Christ on the cross as an image of suffering and mortal death was, well, kind of Grinch. Better be good 'cause Santa's on his way. (Note that the museum edit, also about 4 minutes of the original thirty, did not have the penis segment that is included in the YouTube excerpt. However, by all reports, the most vociferous objections are coming from people who have not visited the show and who have watched it only on YouTube, if they've watched it at all.) After the video link below, there are links to two Washington Post articles from this morning's paper, including Blake Gopnik's opinion piece. BTW, my review of Hide/Seek will be in the January ARTnews. It was written when the show opened, well before the controversy erupted and specifically highlights the Wojnarowicz video as an important and worthy part of the exhibition.

September 13, 2010

Natalia Almada's El General

On September 12, 2010 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, I saw Natalia Almada's new film El General about her great-grand father, Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles. More than a documentary, El General is a category-defying meditation on revolution, history and memory. (trailer at IMDb)

A school teacher who rose to the rank of general in Mexico's 1910-1920 revolution, Calles became president in 1924 and continued to orchestrate post-revolutionary Mexican politics until his exile in 1936. He is buried next to Pancho Villa in Mexico City's Monument of the Revolution. Calles continues to be a controversial figure, who is remembered principally for his unification of Mexico and his violent confrontations with the Catholic Church.

The project was inspired by six hours of audio cassettes made by Almada's grandmother (Calles' daughter) reminiscing about her childhood. However, the audio clips provide no more than a simple armature for the film, which gracefully swings between archival news footage, scans of old photos and clippings, home movies, and Chuy Chavez's brilliant cinematography of street scenes in contemporary Mexico City. Added to the mix are clips of Sergei Eisenstein's ¡Que viva México! and Elia Kazan's ¡Viva Zapata! (with Brando playing the hero, according to a John Steinbeck script).

The score is original music by John Zorn, Marc Ribot and Shazahd Ismaili, with Ribot's guitar figuring prominently throughout. (Ribot's new album, Silent Movies, to be released later this month, will include some music from the film.)

All this comes together as an epic tone poem under Almada 's careful direction (she won a Best Direction, Documentary award at Sundance 2009) and her intuitive, preternaturally seamless editing.

February 21, 2010

Working Class Heroes Purchased for Permanent Exhibition at the National Labor College

The exhibition Working Class Heroes: Selected Film Posters and Stills that I organized for the AFL-CIO international headquarters has been purchased in its entirety by the DC Labor Film Festival, in conjunction with the AFL-CIO Washington, DC Metropolitan Council for display at the National Labor College’s Kirkland Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. The exhibition space at the Kirkland Center is terrific and considerably larger than the space the show occupied downtown. This move not only keeps the works that I assembled together, but also provides a basis for creating an important archive for the documentation of films with workplace and organizing themes.

January 2, 2010

Maid to Clean

Maid to Clean. Very clever. I guess you can read it two ways. Made, as in forced, to clean. Involuntary servitude? Slavery? Diminishing opportunities? Discrimination? Or, is it made, as in formed, created, bred, to clean. As in, we are made to clean and you, customer, and you, bosses, are not – you are made for better things. Repulsive beyond comprehension either way. As is the appropriation of Rosie the Riveter – proud symbol of women’s mass entrance into (largely union) manufacturing jobs during World War II and subsequently adopted by the Chicana movement.
Rosie the Riveter (left) ¡Ya Basta! (2004) by Tina Hernández (right)